Practicing: A Review of January 2013

Feb 21, 2013 by

I was inspired (yet again), by the lovely Rosetta Thurman to start writing monthly reviews in 2013 in an effort to get more intentional about my life and especially my business. I’m a little late for the January review, but since I’m trying to be kinder to myself this year, I decided that late was better than never.

When I look back at January, I must admit that its already hazy. It was a very busy month, but it still worries me when time passes so quickly and I’m not always ‘present’ while experiencing everything. Being present in the moment and maintaining some internal peace is not easy for me and just like any life change it requires practice in order to perfect. That’s why January’s theme is PRACTICING.

Introducing my coworkers to NOLA and the famous Hand Grenade.

Introducing my coworkers to NOLA and the famous Hand Grenade.

January’s Review

Here are some of the significant events that happened in January:

  • Re-connected with some good friends I haven’t seen in a while. In particular, I saw my friend Lisa whom I love dearly and was just about to have twins at the time we met up (they were born at the end of January and they are beautiful!). I know it will be a little tougher to get together with her now that she’s busy with her job and the twins, so I was really grateful to see her. I also caught up with Ms. Rosetta – we hadn’t seen each other for a really long time so it was great to hang out and chat about business, food and her wonderful new roommate.
  • Went to New Orleans for a conference I had been helping to plan. It was a great trip for a few reasons: I got to introduce my coworkers to NOLA, one of my favorite cities in the world; ate tons (and tons and tons) of great food; got to see the event go very smoothly after months of planning; and provided training and technical assistance to those that needed it, which is one of my favorite things to do.
  • Attended a concert with my father-in-law. In all the time I’ve known my husband, I’ve never spent any time alone with his dad, who is a wonderful person. It was nice to do something fun together and get to know each other better.
  • Started participating in a Commercial Parking Working Group under the auspices of the Arlington County Manager. While the work is super wonky, its also an important group that I’m privileged to participate in. The group’s recommendations will have a real impact on transportation in the county and it always feels good to me to contribute to my community.

    I love you NOLA, especially your food.

    I love you NOLA, especially your food.

The biggest personal milestone I reached last month was deciding that our house was ‘done’! I set the goal of getting it done at the beginning of year/month so while it sounds like I accomplished something huge very early in the year, I actually decided that obsessing over all the stuff that I can do or want to do or somehow think I need to do was actually completely counter-productive to my mission of gaining internal peace. I (and my husband) will do what needs to be done whenever the need arises and I will stop trying to check invisible boxes.

My greatest professional accomplishment (in my business) was finalizing my 2013 strategic plan and identifying tasks and milestones for January and February.

The most valuable lesson I learned last month was that letting go of things – especially those things I can’t control – feels great. It feels light, liberating and sweet. I need to keep learning and re-learning it.

Next Month

Obviously, we’re more than halfway through the month already, but I want to keep focusing on being peaceful. I’ve already caught myself creeping toward unnecessary stress too many times so I need to keep up with the practice of releasing stress, not taking it on in the first place and being peaceful in my mind.

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How to combat favoritism in the workplace

Jan 24, 2012 by

No matter how much it sucks to admit, but you know it’s true: favoritism and nepotism exist in nonprofits just the same way they exist in every other facet of life (you name it: high school, family, friends, etc. they are there). Maybe you’re one of the lucky few on the preferred list; if so, stop reading now (or keep reading to learn how the other half lives). But if you’re like most of us, you’ve existed on the outside more than once and you know how frustrating – and how simply devastating – it is to survive there. But survive it you can! Here’s how:

  1. Be perfectNo, its not impossible to be perfect. And when you’re up against someone who can do no wrong, you have to be better. You can’t slack or stop paying attention – ever. Work longer, work harder, work smarter. Do whatever you can to make sure you’re showing up well.
  2. Try not to work with the favorites – If at all possible, avoid the favorites in your office both personally and professionally. If you’re lucky, they work in another department and you won’t interact with them much. If you’re not lucky, they’ll be up in your business all the time. But if they’re incompetent (as so many favorites seem to be), they’ll forget about you quickly as long as you’re doing your work and probably theirs too.
  3. If you have to work with them you have a couple of options: get in and out quick, or separate the work into clear roles. If you can, finish whatever you have to with them very quickly – prioritize it above other work if you can. If you have to work with them on an extended project, draw some extremely bright lines between their work and your work so that you only have to interact at team meetings, etc.
  4. Clean up after them publicly – When they screw up (as they almost certainly will) be there to clean up the mess. I know how painful and frustrating it can be to fix other people’s messes, especially if they’ve already screwed it up completely, but if you do it really well and in plain view of all, people will notice.
  5. Get out – the final defense is actually a great offense. Get another job and step out of the realm of favorites. Hopefully karma will reward you by giving you a workplace where merit wins out, but even if it doesn’t, you’ll be ready to deal with it.
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7 Habits of Highly Successful Managers

Jul 21, 2011 by

Welcome to a new installment of my semi-regular ‘7 Skills/Habits’ series (travelers, coworkers, supervision), an idea stolen blatantly from Stephen Covey.*

A couple of months ago, I was asked to present a training on leadership and management. I was told that I had 3 hours and about 15 interns to work with in the session. And that was it. It was intimidating to say the least. I mean how do you talk about leadership and management in a way that gets across some useful lessons in 3 hours? It seems like both too much and too little time.

But then I took a deep breath and started to focus on the ‘7 Habits’ model as a way to design the training. What I came away with was a distillation of many of the management habits – best practices really – that I consistently harp on within this blog. Now, I’m going to share them with you:

  1. Listen – You have two ears and one mouth for a reason.
    • Listening is one of the most difficult, but also one of the most important management tools you have. Some people never listen, some listen occasionally and some listen a lot but still filter everything they hear through their own biases. You must strive to avoid being any one of those people and instead seek to be a person who truly listens to what people say and even what they don’t say. Doing this will make you both unique among your peers and better able to manage everyone around you.
  2. Prepare – Proper preparation prevents piss poor performance.
    • Make no mistake: proper preparation requires time, effort and energy. But it also makes for success in everything you do. Making a list and checking it twice isn’t only for Santa.
  3. Prioritize – Figure out what is most important. Do that first.
    • I’m not claiming that figuring out what is most important is easy; it is not. However, just because something is difficult doesn’t mean you should avoid it or not even bother trying.
  4. Follow up – If you say you’ll do something, do it. If someone else says they’ll do something, make sure that they do.
    • This one seems so simple and yet so many people don’t do it! I’ll give you a perfect example related to career development: in my first job, I worked with hundreds of college students all around the country, many of whom were nearly ready to graduate. Now, I was only 22 and fresh out of school myself, but I had gone through a job search, moved to a new city and had some contacts from my job. How many of those hundreds of students followed up with me to ask for help, advice, support to contacts. None. That’s right – not one of them followed up with me. Would I have noticed if one of them did? Of course.
  5. Manage Up and Laterally – Ask for guidance and be explicit about what you need.
    • As you begin your career, learning to manage up can be one of the most daunting tasks you face. How do you approach your boss? How do you get what you need? How do you figure out what you’re supposed to do on particular tasks? The key for managing up and laterally is to ask questions and be explicit. None of us are mind readers – you have to tell people what you want and need.
  6. Delegate – Give responsibility, authority and accountability.
      1. Responsibility – you must set clear expectations, but not step-by-step instructions on how something should be done.
      2. Authority – the person you delegate to must be given the right to make decisions
      3. Accountability – the person you delegate to is responsible for the work, but you (the delegator) have ultimate responsibility for the task
    • Out of all of these habits (with the possible exception of listening), this is the one I see screwed up the most. Delegation means “transferring decision-making authority to another employee for a task not necessarily within their job description; the delegator still retains ultimate accountability for the project.” (Apologies, I found this quote several years ago and I can no longer remember the source of it.)
    • Here are the key takeaways – and the things that people screw up about delegation:
  7. Take Responsibility and Give Credit – Own the bad, share the good.
    • This one is fairly self-explanatory: don’t take credit for other people’s ideas or work, share the credit when you both get it done and take responsibility when you – or someone you delegated to – messes things up. Simple, but maybe not easy.

Are there other tips you have for good managers? What do you do to keep at the top of your management game? Let me know!

*To further pay homage, I’ll note that most of the content from this post comes from lessons I’ve learned from Peter Drucker, one of world’s foremost management experts and one of my personal mentors in absentia (obviously I don’t know him personally and he sadly passed away a few years ago). I encourage you to purchase or borrow any one of his books right away.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Leo Reynolds
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7 habits of highly annoying travelers

Mar 12, 2010 by

A while back, I wrote a post about annoying people at work. Just lately, much of my work has involved traveling so I thought I’d draw that theme out again, for a couple of reasons: I like and need to vent about the stupid things people do; and I’d like to provide a cautionary message lest you become one of these people.

Take heed of the completely annoying, frustrating, traveling-ruining stupidity that I see practiced around me regularly, in rough order from beginning to end of the trip (note: much of my travel takes place on planes, but some of these apply to trains as well):

  1. Bad behavior at the security checkpoint – This one encompasses a wide range of activities: waiting until one gets to the actual conveyor belt before taking off shoes, coats, etc; not paying attention and going through the metal detectors with change, watches, belts, etc. thereby necessitating an additional trip through; wearing complicated, lace up shoes that take five minutes to remove and then put back on; not realizing that shoes need to be taken off and then arguing the point with TSA agents; and much, much more. Security restrictions are quite easy to learn about: the TSA keeps their website updated and TV/newspapers report on on new restrictions constantly – just pay attention!
  2. Stopping in the middle of the aisle/walkway or wandering aimlessly – This infraction is particularly annoying in airports and train stations when you are trying to get to your gate and end up delayed because of people blocking the walkways. Listen: I know that navigating airports can be difficult. But if you get lost, pull over to the side out of the way of everyone else and take a minute to figure out where you’re going. Likewise, if you’ve got a three hour layover and plenty of time to do nothing, walk on the outer edge of the hall. Meandering about slowly while I’m rushing to get through the horrible Philly airport (where they ALWAYS seem to put your connection in a different terminal) is not the way to endear yourself to other passengers.
  3. Crowding the gate during boarding – Many of the airlines now seat by zone or section. Your zone/section is usually printed on your boarding pass so you have a general idea of where you are in the boarding process. These fine people have decided that despite their placement in the later boarding zones that they’ll crowd the gate so that everyone else has to push past them, wrestling with their bags along the way. One can never be sure whether these people are actually in line or just blocking the entrance so a lot of dodging, tapping on shoulders to ask people and gauntlet running often ensues.
  4. Putting coats and small bags in the overhead compartments – In this day and age when the airlines will charge you for everything, especially for checking bags, many more people are carrying on than ever before. Unfortunately, the size of the on-board baggage compartments have not expanded to meet that increased need. Therefore, every square inch of space is valuable. But that doesn’t stop John and Jane Tourist from putting their purses, briefcases, small duffel bags and coats into space that should be reserved for roller bags. This is especially frustrating when said tourists have plenty of room under their seat, but don’t seem to understand that space is actually designed to store those briefcases, purses and coats. I’ve actually had arguments with people on planes to try to get them to move their coats, etc. In frustration, I often end up crushing their baggage beneath my own; and no, I don’t feel guilty about it.
  5. Forgetting/ignoring/disregarding seating assignments – Almost every airline assigns seats to travelers. Many allow you to choose your own seats prior to boarding; I always choose to sit on the aisle because of the extra freedom of movement it provides. Seats usually have a letter and a number associated with them; in fact the system is quite simple. They even provide pictures above each section of seating letting you know whether you’re on the aisle or on the window. So why does it seem so hard for some people to find their own seat? I can definitely excuse mistakes, but if I had $5 for everyone who was ever sitting in my seat and then argued with me about it thereby delaying everyone else from boarding (not to mention pissing me off), I’d be a rich woman.
  6. Excessive and/or loud talking – One of the more challenging elements of travel is the loss of personal space incurred when squished next to far too many people in a relatively small metal tube. Its bad enough to have your bodily space invaded without the excessive and loud talking that can crowd your mental space as well. I personally thank the travel gods everyday that cell phone use hasn’t been approved on planes; but that doesn’t prevent people from talking to their neighbors a LOT. Loudly. About stupid stuff for the most part. People: you are sitting less than 3 inches from your neighbor – there is no way that you have to shout to be heard. And while I do adore train travel, cell phones actually are allowed and the problem seems to intensify.
  7. Talking on a cell phone while attempting to board or exit – I discussed the evil of cell phones above, but I had to elaborate. I love my cell phone too. In fact, I have two: one for work and one for personal reasons. But there is a time to talk and time to get off and when are you are trying to board or leave a plane is one of those times. There is something so painful about having landed back home after a week away from your friends, home and partner only to be prevented from getting off the plane by some jackass talking his or her head off. A quick call – or even better, a text – to let someone know you’ve landed is fine. A 30 minute diatribe on how much the flight sucked while you struggle to get your coat and bags from the overhead compartment (yes these are often the same people), block the aisle, hit people with your bags accidentally, drop three things and then finally get off the plane is way too much.
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7 habits of highly annoying people at work

Sep 16, 2009 by

Different personalities in the workplace are a given and you just need to learn to work with them. But regardless of personality, there are some things people do (yes, probably even me – though I’d like to think I don’t) that are just plain annoying and often create far more work and frustration than necessary. I generally try to keep things positive on this blog, but sometimes, you just gotta bitch.

I’m going to be as civil as possible in listing them here. Suffice it to say that you should try to avoid doing these things. Ever. (I should note that I’ve been collecting annoyances for this post for some time, so this isn’t necessary provoked by my current work situation.)

1)   Refusing to actually read emails – I’m a huge Twitter fan and I love the way that 140 characters forces you to get to the point quickly. However, that doesn’t mean that I ignore communications (i.e., emails) that have more than 140 characters. But apparently, some people do. It is endlessly annoying, not to mention time consuming when someone you work with doesn’t read your entire email and then responds to you with anywhere from 1 to 50 questions that were answered by your original email. Seriously people, just read the damn email.

2)   Holding a meeting without an agenda – I sometimes have 6 meetings a day. No, really. That is a huge amount of my professional time devoted to an activity that usually creates more, not less work for me. So if someone calls a meeting, they better damn well know what the thing is supposed to be about. An agenda sent out more than 10 minutes before hand is ideal, and I’ll take a quick verbal list in a pinch. But nothing? Unacceptable.

3)   Asking the same questions over and over again – When I promise, but don’t deliver to someone, I give them full permission to harass me about it. But when I answer an easy question or make it clear that a particular task is not my responsibility, we’re done. Asking again next week will not magically make the task mine or change the answer. If you can’t remember the answer, do what I do and write it down. It’s not that hard, trust me.

4)   Not taking care of something that is clearly one’s responsibility – I’m not into all kinds of hierarchy in the workplace, but I am into clearly defined roles and responsibilities; I have my job and you have yours. So when a task comes up that falls into your bailiwick, just do it! Or if I ask you to do it and you say yes, don’t punk out on it. It’s annoying and really unprofessional.

5)   Being indecisive – Personally and professionally, I really can’t stand indecisiveness. I admit and own this about myself. But this is still a legitimate complaint: referring back to number 4 – when a decision falls into your job roles and responsibilities, you need to make that decision. If you need to consult with supervisors and coworkers, so be it. But when the deadline comes, the decision needs to be made. When you hem and haw, you slow us all down.

6)   Refusing to think proactively – Look, I know how hard it can be to slow down and take a look at the big picture sometimes. You get so bogged down in the day to day, that you forget to look ahead. But as a professional doing almost any job, it’s necessary. This can be as simple as anticipating an upcoming newsletter and asking for copy a week in advance or as complex as developing a 5-year strategic plan. The point is you have to make time to think about this stuff and then bring your coworkers into the loop. When you wait until the last minute and then ask for that newsletter copy to be done today (or even worse, for a huge portion of the strategic plan), you are screwing up everyone else’s schedule and making it that much more difficult for them to think ahead.

7)   Not owning up to your mistakes and/or not fixing them – This should be obvious by now, but everyone makes mistakes (no matter how hard they try to avoid them). So just own up to it and then try to fix it. Don’t issue a litany of excuses and if you need help fixing it, ask. The more you put it off the bigger and nastier the mistake becomes and the harder it is to fix. And if fixing it requires some long hours, so be it. When you come through in the clutch, your coworkers will remember that.

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